The Hunger Games (dir. Gary Ross, 2012) – Should probably keep these thoughts to myself, but this movie disturbed me terribly. Say what you will about reality television being the new voice of the masses – maybe it is, and maybe that isn’t all bad – but the potential ramifications or logical conclusions of this newish genre is troublesome. It’s particularly troublesome when those conclusions are played out in a story that refuses to interrogate it, refuses to expose it in an ironic or intentionally unsettling way. The Hunger Games puts us in the not-that-distant future, in a totalitarian world in which nothing matters save the annual entertainment spectacle of the titular, savage Olympics. Sure, the story preys on our melodramatic fetishization of children, and yet it seems to do so in such a way as to hollow out that fetishization for nothing other than the production of glamour. That is to say, children are placed in the positions of killers and those to-be-killed, wrested from the traditional place of melodrama and resituated as players in a game of killing. In order to negotiate this abjection, the killed children are positioned either as evil or as martyrs. Those who are evil are shrugged off as cheap, not the unfortunate byproducts of a totalitarian regime of empty spectacle, but rather ugly side characters worth killing in order for the victors to get showered in glitter and mass praise. Those who are martyrs die for this same cause, and the winners don’t make any attempt to overturn the system, to become revolutionaries in any significant way. Sure, they “force” the powers-that-be to change the rules at the end ever so slightly, but this is a negligible move. The film itself wallows in the glamour and spectacle that the crowds lavish upon these rags-to-riches characters, neither subverting the massive problem at the heart of this dystopic world nor implying that it should be subverted. This is a world in which reality television has run amok, no one in it cares, and we are not encouraged to care. Instead, we’re encouraged to join our voices to those diegetic masses and cheer on the once lowly children who can rise above their circumstances, kill their artificial adversaries, and gain the spotlight and attention of everyone else. These days we live in a new kind of Red Scare, but this is neither communism nor socialism; this is fascism, that ugly stepchild of an already unbecoming family that, one had thought, was long past its expiration date. In a word: “wow.”
Beau Travail (dir. Clair Denis, 1999) – A nearly sublime experience, one that should be repeated (if that’s fully possible). After revisiting Chocolat, this was joy coupled with wonder, both aesthetic and intellectual. It’s been too long to attempt to access those initial, immediate impressions. Maybe that’s for the best.
Happy People: A Year in the Taiga (dir. Dmitry Vasyukov & Werner Herzog, 2010) – See a fuller review here.
Lawless (dir. John Hillcoat, 2012) – I recently read someone (maybe Dudley Andrew?) remark how many of these “true story” films don’t attempt to embellish or expound upon, in any thoughtful or interesting way, the plain narratives on which they’re based. They ride the wave of the story itself, despite the story itself being relatively blah. If you can basically report “what happens” in a movie and not significantly lose anything in that reductive process, then…whoops.
To Catch a Thief (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1955) – Was struck this time around by the relatively subtle way that the film equivocates the diamonds/jewels/etc. with the female figure, namely, Grace Kelly. Specifics would take awhile to recount, but watch it and see – particularly the fireworks scene. At one point, her whole head disappears in the shadows and the rest of her body, adorned in (faux!) jewels, glimmers, eliciting the desire of Cary Grant and, presumably, the rest of us.
Okay. This doesn’t help me much, though. It seems to appeal to the trilogy of books more than the film, and I can only speak of the film. And as for the business of “staging the self,” sure, I see that. But it’s desperately incomplete, and it’s ultimately next to worthless to stage (1) a “self” that is at the expense of *every other self in the world* and (2) a “self” that is a construct. Despite Fish’s argument that the heroine is authentic, honest, etc., she participates in the entire process, proving only that she can play the game. Once she wins, she does not problematize the game itself in any significant way. The audience is encourage to cheer for her, and since some of the killings she inflicts are passive rather than brutally active, it’s a little easier for us to keep on rooting for her. Also, we are inserted into a moment in a future without context. We don’t get to see what the previous winners looked like, how they won, how they paraded themselves down the aisle, etc., so it’s easy for our heroine to look remarkable. As I imagine being a spectator in one of the huge crowds within the movie, I wonder how I would keep from being bored. This spectacle takes place every year, and every year we cheer, every year everyone but one (or two) die. But I’m rambling now.